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Former Pakistan ruler Pervez Musharraf dies in exile

Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has died in hospital in Dubai at age 79 following a long illness.

Pakistan Musharraf Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf seized power in Pakistan in 1999 in a bloodless coup.
February 5, 2023
5 February 2023

Pervez Musharraf, the four-star general who ruled Pakistan for almost a decade, has died aged 79.

Musharraf died in hospital following a long illness after spending years in self-imposed exile, Pakistan media reported on Sunday.

After seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, Musharraf oversaw rapid economic growth and attempted to usher in socially liberal values in the conservative Muslim country.

He enjoyed strong support for many years, with his greatest threats al Qaeda and other militant Islamists who tried to kill him at least three times.

However, Musharraf’s heavy-handed use of the military to quell dissent and his continued backing of the United States in its fight against al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban ultimately led to his downfall.

Born in New Delhi in 1943, Musharraf was four years old when his parents joined the mass exodus by Muslims to the newly created state of Pakistan.

His father served in the foreign ministry, while his mother was a teacher and the family subscribed to a moderate, tolerant brand of Islam.

He joined the army at the age of 18 and went on to lead an elite commando unit before rising to become its chief. 

He took power by ousting the then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had tried to sack him for green-lighting an operation to invade Indian-held areas of Kashmir, bringing Pakistan and India to the brink of war.

In his early years in government, Musharraf won plaudits internationally for his reformist efforts, pushing through legislation to protect the rights of women and allowing private news channels to operate for the first time.

His penchant for cigars and imported whisky and his calls for Muslims to adopt a lifestyle of “enlightened moderation” increased his appeal in the West in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

Musharraf became one of Washington’s most important allies after the attacks, allowing US forces to operate armed drones from secret bases on Pakistani soil that killed thousands and ordering domestic troops into the country’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghanistan frontier for the first time Pakistan’s history.

That helped legitimise his rule overseas but also helped plunge Pakistan into a bloody war against local extremist militant groups.

Under Musharraf, foreign investment flourished and Pakistan saw annual economic growth of as much as 7.5 per cent – which remains the highest level in almost three decades, according to World Bank data.

The later years of his presidency were however overshadowed by his increasingly authoritarian rule. 

In 2006, Musharraf ordered military action that killed a tribal head from the province of Balochistan, laying the foundations of an armed insurgency that rages to this day.

The next year, more than a hundred students calling for the imposition of Sharia law were killed after Musharraf shunned negotiations and ordered troops to storm a mosque in Islamabad. 

That led to the birth of a new militant group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has since killed tens of thousands in suicide bombings and brazen assaults.

In 2007, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack that triggered waves of violence, prompting Musharraf to declare emergency rule and postpone elections.

In 2008, the country’s first democratic elections in 11 years were held and Musharraf’s party lost.

Facing impeachment by parliament, he resigned the presidency and fled to London.

He returned to Pakistan in 2013 to run for a seat in parliament but was immediately disqualified.

Musharraf was allowed to leave for Dubai in 2016.

In 2019, a court sentenced him to death in absentia for the 2007 imposition of emergency rule but the verdict was later overturned.

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